Legal separation is the formal legal process to separate from your spouse without dissolving your marriage entirely. That being said, legal separation in Missouri is a very similar action to obtaining a divorce. Missouri has laws and rules for how the Court will handle your legal separation and ultimately grant the separation. These laws include guidelines for how to convert your legal separation to a divorce if the marriage does not survive.
How similar is the process to a divorce? It’s almost the exact same process with the one difference that a separation is granted at the end of the case instead of a dissolution. Other than that, you work through all of the same issues.
Legal separation is a tricky process because the motivations of the litigants can vary. It is important to understand how the process if handled in our state vs other states if you plan to pursue a formal break from your spouse.
How to File for Legal Separation in Missouri?
Law firms are contacted by many potential clients with family law matters. If a client reaches out and asks to file for divorce, it is common to also inquire if they are sure about the divorce or if they have considered a legal separation.
A legal separation starts when your Missouri legal separation attorney files a Petition for Legal Separation, as well as other corresponding court documents, with the local Circuit Court. Once the case is accepted by the Court and the case is assigned a Judge and cause number, then your case is officially open with the Court system. The “pleadings” or paperwork to be filed includes:
- Petition for Legal Separation – The Petition is the primary document to make your legal requests to the Court. It details the requests for your case including child custody and child support, maintenance, and property division and debt division.
- Financial Statements – These statements are a Statement of Income and Expenses and a Statement of Property. The statements outline your property and debt, both separate and marital, as well as your monthly income and expenses.
- Filing Sheets – When a new case is filed, each circuit court has a variety of filing sheets they require. This can include a confidential case filing sheet and other filing information sheets that are court specific.
Laws for Legal Separation in Missouri
Legal separation in Missouri is guided by the same laws as if you were proceeding with a divorce. This means that Chapter 452 of the revised statutes will outline the same rules for both types of cases. For example, RSMo. 452.375 outlines child custody factors to be used in divorce or legal separation. The Court views it exactly the same.
In addition, some of the statutes under chapter 452 provide extra details as it relates to legal separations as opposed to dissolutions. For example, RSMo. 452.360 discusses the terms of converting a legal separation to a dissolution of marriage. This law outlines that 90 days must pass before either party is allowed to ask the Court for a conversion to a divorce.
Converting a Legal Separation to a Divorce
Since the law in Missouri allows for a conversion from a legal separation to a divorce, we will briefly discuss how this works. For a divorce to be granted, the Court must find that a marriage is irretrievably broken. For the most part, Missouri courts are of the belief that if one party wants the divorce, that the marriage must be irretrievably broken. This means both parties must agree to a legal separation to avoid a divorce order.
Sometimes both parties truly want a legal separation and at other times, one party just agrees to go along to get the case over with or because other terms of the agreement are favorable to them. However, after 90 days passes, either of the parties can just file a Motion to Convert and the Court will make a finding that the marriage is irretrievably broken and grant a divorce.
Are There Benefits to a Legal Separation in Missouri?
You might be wondering why a couple would choose to get a legal separation if the process is so similar to a divorce in Missouri. There are numerous reasons, but a few main reasons generally drive the decision.
Some couples choose this route because they will be allowed to keep their spouse on their employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Others have religious reasons. And then there is a group that simply wants avoid divorce and stay married for moral or sentimental reason.
Any of these are fine reasons to separate and hold off on the divorce decree. This is an important decision that will permanently affect your family unit.
What are the Downsides?
The main downside is that Missouri does not allow for just a trial separation or a simple separation. A legal separation in Missouri is a full court case that requires all marital property and debt to be divided and for child custody and child support to be determined. Many litigants feel that if they are going to go through all of that they might as well just get divorced.
The Details of the Process
If you do file the case with the Court, you would litigate just like any other family law case. The case is filed with your local circuit court, assigned to one of the local family court Judges and a summons is prepared. The family law attorneys file necessary motions and pleadings, conduct discovery and negotiate temporary details.
The case would then resolve by the parties reaching settlement or the case proceeding to trial. Ideally, you will be able to reach terms on a separation agreement and enter a judgment of legal separation.
Still Have Questions…
The nuances of the different kinds of cases can be confusing. Our law firm handles legal separations in Missouri in St. Louis and the surrounding areas. If you reach out to us, we are happy to answer questions and talk through your concerns.